As for clients with disabilities? The biggest obstacles to their seeking legal advice may lie in their attorney’s lack of planning. In fact, attorneys may not even know ahead of time that clients have special needs. When a client drives to the attorney’s office, he or she may not be able to park nearby or traverse the two or three steps up to the office building. Even if an attorney is aware that a client is deaf, finding an American Sign Language interpreter may be tricky and expensive (and, by law, not billable to the client). That may mean that the client has to ask a family member to take time off work to tag along—and that may lead to the family member learning confidential information about the client that the client might otherwise prefer not to share.
So, how should an attorney handle obstacles like these? Kirk Charles Simoneau, a lawyer who uses a cane, suggests that common sense solutions work best. First, if you know that your client has a disability, spend a few minutes before a meeting researching the disability and the kinds of accommodations that typically assist people with that condition. Second, ask the client. He or she will likely have encountered similar obstacles in other situations and can tell you, for example, whether reading software can decode PDFs sent by email. And third, make plans accordingly. If your client uses a wheelchair and is coming to your office, make sure there’s room in the conference room to navigate. Move your car from your assigned spot so that your client can park right next to the office.
And finally? Both attorneys and clients with disabilities stress that respect goes a long way. Don’t make assumptions. Even if you know someone who’s deaf, don’t just act like every deaf person is identical and has the same needs. Think about how you’d like to be treated. For example, the attorney with MS stressed that, had the judge just come down from the bench for sidebars, most of the embarrassment and hearing difficulties could have been avoided. And remember that clients and employees with disabilities may be limited in one small way but incredibly gifted in another. They’re likely great problem-solvers and used to being patient and understanding. fa